Saturday, July 29, 2006

A Conservative Christian Minister with the Right Message

Interesting article in the Times today by Laurie Goldstein, Disowning Conservative Politics Is Costly for an Evangelical Pastor. Makes for a good comparison with an article in this week's The New Yorker by Frances Fitzgerald, Holy Toledo: Ohio's Gubrnatorial Race Tests the Power of the Christian Right. Fitzgerald's article talks about evangelical Christians in Ohio becoming more and more actively involved in politics to the point of doing what they can to elect the next governor of the state who supports their agenda. This involvement has gotten to the point that the IRS has begun to investigate the tax free status of a large number of churches in the state (due to other clergy bringing the problem of religion mixing too closely with politics to the attention fo the IRS), and causing the head of the IRS to warn that there's a problem out there with where churches are taking themselves when the start to dance with politic activism. The tendency we're seeing in Ohio fits nicely with what Michelle Goldberg warns us about in her book Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, which I've discussed on more than one occasion here.

Rev. Boyd, highlighted in the Times article, has the right message: the church doesn't have a place in setting the agenda for the country, certainly not in running the country, and there's no reason to assume that even a conservative congregation should be lining up behind the Republican party and its agenda. Of course, as the article title hints, espousing this to his
congregation comes with a price, in this case losing about 20% of a 5,000 strong following.

The religious right is not to be ignored, and I applaud Rev. Boyd for this principled stand on where politics and religion should and shouldn't meet. I fear, though, that the good Rev. is in the minority and we're just beginning to see problems with the religious, i.e. evangelical Christian, right's push to tell us all how to live and believe.

Friday, July 28, 2006

They're Killing Me ...


A quick afternoon perusal of the news finds the following, Republicans Tie Minimum Wage to Tax Cut. The house Republicans don't want to approve the minimum wage unless tax breaks are given to the rich - to smooth it out a bit and not make it seem so much like a welfare program for rich people they're throwing a bone to middle-class folks by including tax deductions for college tuition in their tax proposal (the middle class and everyone else is already allowed to save for college tuition tax-free using 529 plans or a Coverdell Education Savings Account, so what more they can gain from this I'm not entirely sure).

The minimum wage presently stands at $5.15 an hour. If you work a 40 hour week you're making $10,700 a year and that's barely a wage you can support one person on, much less a family. So of course anyone making solely minimum wage is barely getting by and more likely than not working two jobs, very often with neither providing health insurance, to scrape by. The minimum wage is not indexed to inflation, as common sense would indicate to me that it should be, and it hasn't been changed in ten years. So as we learn today, the Republicans will only buy into changing it now if the inheritance taxes on wealthy estates are eliminated. So regular people aren't entitled to a working wage unless people who haven't a worry in the world financially pay less taxes - how does that work?

So we're talking about cutting the taxes on the rich, but not eliminating or appropriately index the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) which more and more middle class, two-income families are finding themselves subjected to. I've sort of beat the AMT to death, the last time being in April: The Alternative Minimum Tax: Watch Out!. We're presently taxing our children at a higher tax rate than the old "children's rate" between the age of 14 to 18 because a cash strapped congress is trying to scrounge for revenue, and the Republicans are looking to cut "inheritance" taxes for the rich. I could go on and on ... but then the real point here is that the less well-off, the working poor as they're called, are entitled to a working wage without having to give anyone else bennies to justify it. But the working poor just don't count as much to the Republicans, of course, so ...

I don't know when the average Jane or Joe middle-class person is going to wake up to the fact that they're the ones paying for subsidizing the rich, which means that on a percentage basis of income they're paying more to support this government and its expenditures in places like Iraq. The little guy is being made to pay, while our Republican leaders in Washington, D.C. seem to be mostly interested in making sure that they take care of the primary campaign contributors. People should be getting pissed, very pissed ...

Addendum (5/31): It turns out that the 529 college saving plan, which is tax free, is due to stop being tax free for deductions from the account in 2010. Part of what this tax bill is intended to do is keep the tax-free status of the plans in place for good, i.e. not end after 2010.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Beware the Homosexual Agenda!!!!

Lifted from Ms. Betty's Web site at

Imagine my surprise, my utter stupefaction, to discover how little I know, dupe that I am, about all those gay people who apparently have, of all things, an agenda. Frankly I'm besides myself now with disgust and anger over how I've been taken in. All this time I simply thought gay people wanted to be left alone, treated like everyone else, a few wanted to be a bit flamboyant at times but then I always figured why shouldn't they have the same rights as Paris Hilton; God, I was such a SAP!

You haven't heard of the Homosexual Agenda? Thank the Lord that you visited this blog! After doing some in-depth research (ok, I only Googled it, but if it's good enough for my students it's good enough for me) I found the following at CitizenLinkQ&A: The Homosexual Agenda (Note: CitizenLink is maintained by Focus on the Family, founded by that really neat Christian right wing fun-loving guy, James Dobson, who'd just love to have the opportunity to help you straighten your life out through the healing message of Jesus and his organization's intervention - Praise the Lord!) Here's the agenda:

1. "Talk about gays and gayness as loudly and as often as possible." That was aimed at making people so tired of the issue they would want to give them anything they want to make them shut up. [Wow, those clever and extremely sneaky homosexuals, they take their tactics right out of "How to be an Obnoxious Four-Year Old or Teenager".]

2. "Portray gays as victims, not as aggressive challengers." That's why they exploited things like the tragic murder of Matthew Shepard. It was a tragic murder, yet they have used that and spun that to demonize people like Dr. James Dobson and other Christian leaders who have taken a biblical stand on homosexual behavior — people who have love and compassion for those trapped in that behavior. [Damn right. We all know that the biblical stand on homosexuals is to beat them silly or kill them any opportunity we have, or if we don't have the cujones to do it ourselves to tell the world "Well, those sodomites got what was comin' to 'em as everyone knows that Jesus don't like 'em and neither should we - but we'll be happy to save their sinning souls if they just let us, otherwise we got no use for 'em and they can rot in hell, and the sooner the better."]

3. "Give homosexual protectors a just cause." That was designed to tap into and exploit the almost innate sense of fairness that Americans have; to the sympathy that we have — especially liberals have — for those who seem to be disenfranchised. [God, how on target this is! Those gays who can be denied housing, the right to marry, the opportunity to have families (icky, icky, right?), any legal protection afforded us Jesus-sanctioned heterosexuals simply because they're gay, so they have absolutely no right to claim disenfranchisement and take advantage of those poor liberals looking for a cause to champion - have those homosexuals no shame?!?!?!?!] {Warning: your blogger is starting to get dizzy}

4. "Make gays look good." That's what they've done through media campaigns, through television programs, like "Will and Grace" and others, where homosexuals are portrayed as the most normal, stable people in America. [This one sort of confuses me, I mean the majority, though not all, of the gays I've known had no trouble making themselves look good - well, it must be to do with the media coverage thing and really, how dare they be made to look good by Dan Rather or Katrie Kouric, or whomever it is these days, when Jesus so clearly doesn't want them? The simple nerve of these people sometimes just takes your ever-loving breath away!]

5. "Make the victimizers look bad." They portray people of faith — people who have legitimate and biblical reasons to oppose homosexual behavior — as homophobes and bigots. They also try to "muddy the moral waters" by getting liberal churches, many of which have thrown out a great deal of the Bible, to say that homosexual behavior is just fine from a theological perspective. [Now everyone knows that people of faith are victimizers who in no way earn our scorn or admonishment when they dump on gays. Of course people of faith have legitimate reasons for not liking gays, and then there are those biblical reasons which are all they really need, and if Jesus says it's not ok, well dang it that's all I need, and to hell with those liberal churches that throw out any part of the Bible! Everyone knows you simply can't pick and choose what you want out of the Bible, you either buy into it in toto or it's off to hell you go!]

6. "Get funds from corporate America." In fact, they have. They have gotten corporate America to sign on to their agenda, and it is very interesting how they have done that. It's based on fudging the truth — and outright lies. [Would you believe it? We actually have corporations giving money to gay causes? What's the world coming to? Who cares that gays like to spend money like the rest of us, and in some cases spend a lot of money, and therefore other than for their gayness make excellent customers that any business would like to keep happy? To think that the gays have been "fudging" (the guy talking about the agenda used the word, NOT me - maybe he does have a sense of humor?) the truth, and engaging in outright lies with which they've managed to take in those gullible business people in order to get their corporate sponsorship. Have these gays no shame?!?]

Disclaimer: What got me on this rant was an article in today's NY Times, Washington Court Upholds Ban on Gay Marriage. Of course someone in there from a religious group was quoted about the homosexual agenda and I was wondering what it was exactly. I had encountered the expression in Michelle Goldberg's book, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism but she doesn't lay it out quite as succinctly as does CitizenLink above, likely because she didn't want to be accused of making fun of the Christian Right, which isn't overwhelmingly as obtuse as those writing for CitizenLink would seem to be - though let's not underestimate group obtuseness and how that frames an issue, especially one where a group of people is being set apart and denigrated for no particular reason than prejudice and hatred. If you don't believe me ask any good Nazi.

What especially got me in the Times article was the following quote from one of the Washington state Supreme Court justices:

“Limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples,” Justice Barbara A. Madsen wrote in that opinion, “furthers procreation, essential to the survival of the human race, and furthers the well-being of children by encouraging families where children are reared in homes headed by the children’s biological parents.”

Little did I know that I married to help with " ... the survival of the human race" - the higher causes that I buy into that I don't know about simply overwhelm me sometimes (I'm typing this with my right hand as I wipe away a tear streaming down my cheek with my left)! I'm not into this "activist judges" horse manure, but in this case you have to wonder what agenda Justice Madsen has in mind. I mean marriage is intended to sustain the survival of the human race, and being raised by your "biological" parents is what matters, not that you're loved, cared for, and nurtured into being the best possible addition to the human race that you can be - i.e. not just a human of one, in a manner of speaking. Well, I can only wonder what Justice Madsen thinks of birth control and a whole list of issues I won't belabor here.

Well anyway, if after reading this you're not compelled to go out and bash a gay for Jesus, then good for you. Hug your kid instead and hope it's a better and more understanding world by the time they have to really go out and play in it - but don't count on it.

P.S. Another take on the Homosexual Agenda, better than mine, can be found at: The Homosexual Agenda Revealed! Conservative Christians discover what radical homosexual activists are up to! Christians Proudly Hating Through The Anointing of Jesus, by Ms. Betty Bowers who has some great stuff to sell if you make your way to the bottom of the site (I highly recommend it.)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Is NCLB Encouraging Dumbing Down?


If we're seeing this in science my guess is that it's happening in the other subjects as well. I'm talking about a move on the part of school systems to "dumb down" curriculum, maybe without specific intent (though I'd hazard to say that this may indeed be the case in some places) but the end result seems to amount to just that, "dumbing down".

This occurred to me regarding chemistry as I find myself in the middle of a course on how to use a textbook called "Chemistry in the Community", otherwise known as ChemCom or CC for short. CC falls under what is more and more known as conceptual science, which in short means that we take out the math (not entirely, but if it involves very large or very small exponents it's gone, and most equations found in a "traditional" text are not dealt with) and we drive at chemistry through a basic, non-mathematical understanding of chemical concepts and how they're seen in the world around us, i.e. the community. CC courses tend to be populated with a higher number of IEP/504 students, students with behavioral problems, and students with poor math skills - they're not necessarily mixed together, but that would depend on the school. For this population of students CC seem to work based on the emphasis of the text and how the course flows from that, which is different enough that you're encouraged to take a special course on how to teach the text. The fact is that traditionally these students were the ones chemistry teachers really didn't expected to have to deal with in the past as it was not expected that any of them would ever take a chemistry course.

First, why the new interest in CC? There's an argument to be made that a course like this should have always been available, especially for those students who have poor math skills and who would likely legitimately get something from taking such a course. But there's now a big push to get those students who traditionally never stepped into a chemistry class to take courses like this because NCLB says, essentially, that all students should be striving to attain similar levels of learning, therefore all students should have the opportunity to take chemistry. That's not a bad thing, though I'm sure some chemistry teachers would disagree. What's bad is when an entire curriculum throughout a department is driven by the less rigorous course.

CC is not a traditional chemistry textbook, there's little emphasis on the math that normally comes with chemistry in HS, the problems are more conceptual vice mathematical, and the classes tend to be driven to more hands on exercises/labs, which tends to work well with the population of students that CC is normally used with. What has surprised me is the number of
teachers in the course I'm taking who are using CC for ALL of their chemistry courses. On the whole, based on my assessment of the text (and I've informally surveyed a large number of teachers through two listservs and my take on this is overwhelmingly supported by chemistry teachers) CC would not work as a college prep textbook, nor would a CC class be considered a college prep class if one were solely using the CC text. Of course there's the trick, use the CC text for college prep/honors, that's fine, but you need to "supplement" it. Of course all textbooks require some supplementing, but if you take a textbook like CC and use it with a more advanced class to what degree is it reasonable to expect to have to "supplement"? Of course we're talking more work for the teacher, which we can only hope that he or she is up to. In addition, the more advanced students have to rely on handouts and in-class lectures outside the scope of the text to get the information that they'll find themselves needing in college, or for the SATs/ACTs for that matter.

So let me lay this out: NCLB drives a chemistry program to accommodate ALL students. CC, or something like it, is brought in to do that. The school needs new chemistry textbooks for all its classes, so let's buy CC for the entire chemistry curriculum and expect the teachers to simply supplement whatever is felt should also be included in the curriculum for the more advanced
students. A lrger textbook buy is a plus for the school district as more books per school means lower prices and more bennies like extra teacher editions, software, pre-made overhead slides, etc., to come with the purchase.

This isn't entirely a problem with NCLB, hardly. I don't know if NCLB legislation includes a provision for funding schools that have to introduce new courses, my guess is that this isn't the case, so indirectly NCLB sets the situation up. This situation is more the problem of school districts which are trying to save money, and in this case rationalizing that a less-than-ideal
textbook buy, in this case a significantly less-than-ideal buy in my mind, can be compensated for by dedicated teachers who'll supplement the text - and of course many will, and some won't.

Part of the problem is that there's a lack of standards laying out what a conceptual science course should be, what a regular chemistry course should be, and what an honors/accelerated course should be. We don't have that problem with AP chemistry as everyone knows what they're shooting for there, and what sort of textbook should be used to get there; not at all the case with all the other chemistry designations. This lack of clarity allows one to substitute a text like CC which most chemistry teachers would say is not appropriate for students who have decent math, class, and study skills. In the end a situation is created where meeting the standard means meeting a minimum requirement, and for those districts looking to save money the minimum requirement can then be stretched to an entire departmental curriculum, which without question sets up a situation where that curriculum is easily watered down at the higher levels.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Bush's Assault on the Constitution


Some may wonder what assault I'm referring to here. Is it the recent NSA wire tapping, which appears to have skirted normal Constitutional protections by holding up the "War on Terror" as a shield to hide behind? Or is it the Patriot Act, which many feel stretches the powers of the government too far into the rights and protections afforded the average American citizen? No,
none of these, I'm referring to Bush's use of "signing statements" which effectively allows him to gut any legislation that comes his way that he doesn't like. No need to veto a bill, simply append a signing statement to the bill in question and you can effectively eviscerate it, obviating any need at all for a veto. So while something of a big to do was made over the fact that Bush's recent veto of the stem cell bill was the first veto he has exercised in his five plus years in office, the fact is that he hasn't had to use a veto when he didn't like a particular bill, instead relying on signing statements which effectively did to the bill what a veto publicly does. You see as a rule no one really pays attention to signing statements, though I'd hazard to guess that this is no longer going to be the case after this administration's shenanigans.

This issue has been running around for some time. It first came to my attention back in May on Fresh Air, specifically Reporter Highlights Bush's Executive Decisions, which was an interview with Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe who happened to hit on what Bush was up to and wrote about it in the Globe. This in turn prompted Arlen Specter, Senator from PA, to call for hearings on the matter. In today's Times we find Legal Group Faults Bush for Ignoring Parts of Bills- the "legal group" in question was a group of lawyers put together by the American Bar Association. In the article Specter and Patrick Leahy, Senator from Vermont, are quoted as follows:

"At a recent hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the chairman, Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, said Mr. Bush seemed to think he could “cherry-pick the provisions he likes and exclude the ones he doesn’t like.” Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the senior Democrat on the committee, said the signing statements were “a diabolical device” to rewrite laws enacted by Congress."

The ABA had the following to say:

The American Bar Association said Sunday that President Bush was flouting the
Constitution and undermining the rule of law by claiming the power to disregard
selected provisions of bills that he signed.

In a comprehensive report, a bipartisan 11-member panel of the bar association said Mr. Bush had used such “signing statements” far more than his predecessors, raising constitutional objections to more than 800 provisions in more than 100 laws on the ground that they infringed on his prerogatives.

These broad assertions of presidential power amount to a “line-item veto” and improperly deprive Congress of the opportunity to override the veto, the panel said.

This is all part of a move by Bushies to "strengthen" the Presidency. The New Yorker ran an interesting article by Jane Mayer on this, and the man considered to be the eminence grise for the administration on this specific issue and who's otherwise specifically Cheney's chief of staff and legal advisor, David Addington. The article is The Hidden Power: The Legal Mind Behind the White House's War on Terror, and Mayer was also interviewed by Terry Gross on Fresh Air, David Addington and 'Hidden Power'.

I suppose that's far more reference material than most blogs should carry, but it's actually worth going through some of this to get the feel and, hopefully, the understanding that there are those in this administration who truly believe in some version of the Imperial Presidency, where the President gets to make whatever rules he feels like and Congress, and hence the American People, be damned.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Doctors Are Just Special

The Bad Doctors

This past week hasn't been a good one for the medical profession. I won't even get into the doctor and nurses in New Orleans, that's something that's more likely than not going to wind up before a jury to try and get the facts and particulars straightened out. The issues that jumped out to me were more longstanding ones, and are ones where doctors seem to hold themselves up as above considerations that the rest of us have to make. Somehow I had the sense that there are too many doctors out there who think they're just plain special.

First issue, published in the Times, Report Finds a Heavy Toll From Medication Errors, informs us:

"Medication errors harm 1.5 million people and kill several thousand each year in the United States, costing the nation at least $3.5 billion annually, the Institute of Medicine concluded in a report released on Thursday. Drug errors are so widespread that hospital patients should expect to suffer one every day they remain hospitalized, although error rates vary by hospital
and most do not lead to injury, the report concluded."

Well, while 1.5 million errors a year may occur most don't lead to injury - I'm sure we can all take comfort from that. Now why does this situation exist? Because the medical profession has done a totally piss poor job in digitizing prescriptions. It's not just a matter of being able to write out more legible prescriptions, a problem many make a joke of in spite of the fact that this, too, leads to injury and possible death, but that with digitized systems errors in dosage or potential drug interaction problems may be caught by an intelligent system - we're not talking Einsteinian intelligence mind you, we're talking the sort of "intelligence" that's well within the capability of systems that have existed for ten years or so now. FedEx can track your package to the point where you know when it's been put in a truck in some city in Turkey, but we can't digitize hospitals and standard medical administrative systems. Yes, there's more to it in medicine than FedEx requires, but not so much more that there's any reasonable excuse why it hasn't happened to date.

Next we have, again from the Times, Journal Editor Again Says She Was Misled. In the last two months there have been three occasions where the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association has discovered that authors publishing in the journal wrote papers regarding topics that the doctors in question had been paid by pharmaceutical companies to do research on. No one would automatically impugn a doctor's ethics because he/she published such a paper - well, really, no one would were the doctors in question thinking that normal ethical considerations that seem to apply to everyone else also apply to them and they in fact identified the association in their paper. I don't know how many times I've seen journalists writing about something to which they had a connection. For example, the journalist identifies that he/she indirectly, or sometimes directly, work for a parent company which the reporter was writing directly or indirectly about and this association would not have been immediately obvious to the average reader. It makes perfect ethical sense to put out into the open that what you write about, be it a paper or an article, any association you may have that may cause people to think that what you're writing may be in someway swayed by this association. Journalists can figure this out, doctors can't - why?

The last one really got my head spinning, not least of all because the psychiatrist in question has obtained a public defender because he has convinced the courts that he can't afford to hire his own lawyer. Mind you, this doctor admits that last year he made about $100,000 just for endorsing a drug called Xyrem. Well, that's besides the point, this doctor, Dr. Gleason, was arrested by the FDA for stretching the line regarding Xyrem, specifically with regard to something called "off-label" prescriptions. Off-label prescriptions are when a drug is prescribed for something that it wasn't originally intended for. Drug X was designed to combat depression, for example, but it's also discovered that it clears up acne. The drug is only approved by the FDA for use against depression, but nothing stops a doctor from putting together an "off-label" prescription to help some teenager with the angst of Acne.

So off-label prescribing is legal, but it's illegal for a company to advocate any off-label uses for its drugs. The company in this case (the company in question didn't invent this, be sure, and some variation of this is common practice in medicine) was getting around it by essentially hiring Gleason to give "talks", for which he could make up to $3000 a day, to fellow doctors, in their office, at professional meetings, at medical schools, etc. So Gleason was a paid shill for a drug company, and he, and many of his fellow physicians, don't see any problem with this. Why? Because they believe in these drugs. Ok, great, but of course they have no scientific evidence, certainly Gleason didn't (though he did at one point tell investigators differently), to support their experiential/anecdotal experiences with these drugs. As it stands any doctor can come up with a ridiculous theory as to how a particular drug could be used to cure a problem in spite of the fact there's zero evidence to support the claim in question. A good example of this is testosterone being administered to men of a certain age. While testosterone will make a man in his 50's feel like he's 25 again, there's no scientific evidence to support what a normal level of testosterone is in any man, or what administering testosterone to men in their 50's will do to them; that, though, doesn't stop doctors who can make a lot of money from administering those testosterone shots.

The hubris of Gleason, who was willing to be a paid talking hand puppet for a drug company and didn't see a problem with it, is shared by the many in the medical profession. It seems that in the medical profession that it's ok if fellow doctors are paid shills for drug companies, doctors somehow know better and aren't swayed by this, or at least so they seem to say. Or somehow they're entitled to the money because ... well, whatever, there's rationalization there,
I'm sure.

Now I see the value of off-label prescriptions, but not with paid-representatives of drug companies, who may not work directly for these companies, being able to pitch those drugs to their fellow doctors. If you're getting the word out for free, fine, and it'd be really nice if the medical profession would on some level police the whole off-label practice, maybe with some sort of minimal review process so that any ties between the interest of big or little pharma and those of patients are kept in appropriate perspective. Something else that doctors need to keep in mind: they're not trained scientists. Just because someone has "M.D." tacked next to their name doesn't make him/her a person of science. Yes, they've some measure of scientific training, but it's minimal compared to PhD's, and the vast majority of doctors don't have the training to function as "scientists", but yet they're making drug usage determinations based on ... well, really, personal experience, which in science doesn't add up to a whole heck of a lot.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Asymmetric Warfare

Asymmetric Warrior par excellence, Gandhi

I was so quick Friday to get what I had written earlier posted that I didn't realize how the title to the post didn't quite fit with what I was writing about, or at least it only half fit. My intention was also to address this other issue, the "one down" in contrast to the "one up" otherwise addressed in that blog entry. That said, this issue on its own seems to be to be deserving of its own post, and so here we go.

A few days ago the Times ran the following article by Damien Cave, U.S. Says Inmate Legal Notes May Have Aided Suicide Plot. The article discusses the legal paperwork tied to the detainees in Guantanamo Bay who killed themselves, and how the government contends that the detainees were using this paperwork to communicate with each other to coordinate their suicides. It also highlights the different perspective that the government has about the suicides, specifically:

"Detainees' lawyers have described the suicides as acts of desperation, while Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., the facility's commander, has described them as acts of 'asymmetric warfare.'"

RADM Harris is not an official government spokesperson so it's not entirely fair to characterize what he says as the "government line", as it were. To what degree anything he said is representative of what DoD itself may think is also not clear, at least to me from my limited perspective. I'd be surprised that he came up with the asymmetric warfare comment on his own, and if he did I'd expect that he's likely a man who doesn't much figure he's going to be promoted past his current rank so why not speak his mind. It's possible this line was fed to him by DoD spinmeisters or whatever, in which case he became the sacrificial goat to put this sort of stupidity into the daily newspapers.

First, I want to clarify something: I don't equate Guantanamo detainees with Gandhi, far from it. I have little doubt that some of the men there are very bad people, though they and everyone else held in Guantanamo (Gitmo for short) do deserve better due process than we're presently giving them. No, the whole Gandhi thing came to mind when I thought about others who've put their lives on the line for a cause, Gandhi certainly being one of them, Martin Luther King Jr., Vietnamese Buddhist monks self-immolating to protest the Diem government in Vietnam, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Susan B. Anthony, and the list goes on and on. These people were willing to give their lives for what they believe in, and historically we look back on them now as great individuals, people who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for what they believe, which invariably we look back now and say, "Why of course it's worth believing in, and even putting your life on the line for". How the detainees fit into this calculus of sacrifice is not clear to me, but it's worth thinking about and certainly deserves more than to be written off as an act of "asymmetric warfare."

RADM Harris too easily conflated, deliberately or per some oddball DoD script, the domain he's living in, the "war on terror", with his prisoners who may or may not be guilty of crimes in whatever way the current administration defines such. Warfare indicates warriors engaging on similar terms, and asymmetric warfare would indicate some manner of divergence from the normal rules of war. Traditionally asymmetric warfare has meant a guerrilla engagement, such as the U.S. now finds itself engaging in Iraq, though we don't call the "insurgents" guerrillas likely because it would imply some manner of legitimacy equivalent to the last frequently guerrilla war this country engaged in, which was in Vietnam. A man locked in a cell who kills himself is not engaging in warfare, he's making a statement, a rather profound statement when
you get right down to it. But of course we don't want to bother ourselves with such messages, and indeed it's far easier to say the bastards were engaging in asymmetric warfare where the only possible casualty of said warfare was themselves - what kind of war is it when the only victims are the perpetrators? Lordy would wars be a hell of a lot shorter were they all like that.

I have to admire a man or woman who feels so strongly about something that they're willing to kill themselves for it. Now the person in question may have committed acts that weren't worthy of admiration, but then in this case I haven't a clue about these detainees. What I do know is that they were willing to coordinate a group suicide and then act on it, resulting in three of them dying. As I said, that's a profound statement, one worthy of more respect and consideration than our government and the majority of Americans seem interested in giving it's due, and I believe we do this at our peril.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Sogand on Block Island


We day tripped over to Block Island today. We're all pretty exhausted right now, but it was overall a good day - though be prepared to pay a pretty penny for fast food when you're on Block Island during "high season" - $34 for two grilled chicken sandwiches, a Thai chicken wrap, 2 side orders of fries, and 3 sodas isn't anywhere close to Mickey Dee's rates, for darn sure. Here's Sogand between mom and grandma - this kid always has a serious face on, trying to capture her smiling is NOT easy. Not sure what that says about older Sogand, and I don't care - I just adore her.

Friday, July 14, 2006

U.S. Military: One Up, One Down


An interesting article by Seymour Hersh in last week's New Yorker, Last Stand: The Military's problem with the President's Iran Policy. Overall it was heartening to me to read that the military, of which I was a part for 22 years of my life, isn't solely populated with right wing ideologues who are foaming at the mouth to do the bidding of this administration. No, indeed, it seems that there are people populating the ranks who are trying to realistically assess what we should or shouldn't do with regard to an exercise of military power, and who are also a bit fed up with how this administration misuses those it gets information from.

Hersh reports that military leaders in the Pentagon are sending signals to Bush that they're not in favor of military action in Iran. The reasons are many, but they boil down to first not being sure where the targets are, and given that this would have to be an air campaign, i.e. we'd be bombing the country, it's pretty certain that any such bombing campaign would result in Iran entering into Iraq in a significant way with the result being many American and Iraqi deaths and God only knows what end result, but whichever one you can think of isn't pretty.

The military brass is also put out by the fact that the "nuclear" option was put on the table, which made it into the press some weeks ago. The idea was to us nuclear "bunker busters" to get to the buried Iranian nuclear facilities. Of course where those facilities are exactly isn't known, but the Bush administration was indirectly trumping the possibility of using nukes to get to Iranian nuclear materials. It turns out that the military was asked to provide all possible options, which in this situation included the possibility of using bunker busting nukes. Apparently that wasn't intended to mean that this was an option the military seriously considered, though that didn't stop the Bushies from putting it out there as if it were, and this ticked off the Pentagon brass.

An interesting twist on this for me is that the military’s stand on Iran is not unanimous. Indeed, the Air Force feels it can do the job well enough and is all for dropping bombs. In this case it’s not what’s good for the services, i.e. ALL service members regardless of whatever uniform they wear, but what’s likely good for the Air Force, though in what context the Air Force could see this as good, other than sucking up to bomb/invasion crazy neocons I have no clue. When you’re dropping bombs from 35,000 feet you’re not too concerned about losing your pilots, planes, or what it looks like after you’re done. Soldiers and Marines have to get in close and personal, clearly putting their own lives on the line, and they get to take home the visions of what they’ve done. In the case of the Navy, while that service doesn’t play as much of a role on the ground (medics with the Marines do, as do support personnel such as medical types in general), but if it has to sail its ships into the Persian Gulf, which it would surely need to do if it were to launch aircraft into Iran, then the vision of martyr aspiring Iranian Revolutionary Guardsmen coming at aircraft carriers and destroyers in explosives laden 50 + knot cigarette boats just doesn’t settle well with a lot of folks when the return on what’s expected is so up in question.

However you cut it, we have enough problems in the world without inviting more by going after Iran. Here’s the deal: If the Iranians want the bomb they’re going to get it, period. There’s not a whole hell of a lot that can be done about it by force or threat of force. If we try it’s almost a sure bet that the Iranians will dump even more time and money into going after the bomb when we’re through as there’s no chance in hell that we’re going to be able to occupy the country like we are Iraq.

The Bush administration’s policy on Iran has been unrealistic and dramatically lacking in imagination and original thinking. Yes, Iran’s a problem, one the Iranian people themselves are trying to figure out and deal with, but it’s theirs to deal with, not ours. We don’t like it, in many cases understandably, but trying to bully the Iranians into doing our bidding when so much of what we ask for is hypocritical is ridiculous. If the American people allow this administration to get away with the same misdirection and saber rattling that it used to get us into Iraq, then God help us and Iran.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Sogand at 5 Months

Sogand in daddy's arms at 5 months old. She's becoming a person in so many ways, it's amazing to watch. Daddy is trying to learn how to be a daddy, while mommy seems to have fallen into the "mommy" role much more naturally and with much greater style than daddy.

I am so totally in love with this small human - I am very lucky for her and for having her mommy in my life.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Well Just Thank God ... We're Protected!

In today's Times, Shield Was Set to Stop Missile, Bush Says, we learn about how the nation's
missile defense shield was "set" to stop the nefarious long-range North Korean missile launched a couple of days ago. The president assured the American people when he told us "I think we had a reasonable chance of shooting it down." Of course, as with most things Bush has anything to say about, he's misinformed or was deliberately misinforming us - I go for the latter myself.

The missile defense shield in question hasn't adequately tested per the DoD requirements for testing major defense programs, and of what testing there has been the system has consistently not performed up to expectations. So the fact is that there's no reasonable certainty that it can hit anything, much less a North Korean missile. Of course the president covered himself on the
matter of the particulars by saying that there's a "reasonable chance of shooting it down" - one person's "reasonable" is often times another person's "you're out of your mind if you think that's going to work"; my reading of our president is that something's reasonable so long as it in some way, regardless of however statistically unlikely it might otherwise be, supports something he
wants or at least thinks he wants.

Let's first consider the circumstances: North Korea has yet to show that it has mastered the technology to launch a long range missile. The fact that you have a missile doesn't mean you have the capability to miniaturize a nuclear weapon (no small feat in itself) that you can then stick on top of the missile you want to lob it with. So we were set to intercept a threat that, on
the whole in this case, didn't really exist. But we were ready to intercept that nonexistent threat, yes we were, and we wanted to be sure you knew that.

"The president said the missile tests ordered by North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il, were another example of why "we need a ballistic-missile system.""

Now this is ridiculous, but it seems to play well in Peoria. We tracked that missile from the second it was being fueled, and we had a radar beam up its tail the second it was launched and we followed the thing until it broke into pieces shortly after launching. Now I'm still trying to fathom the logic, and the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on trying to make something like this work, that has North Korea, admittedly a bit out there on the fringe when it comes to logic and reasonableness, sending a missile our way when we're watching the thing from the second it makes its way to the launch pad. How long would it be after a launch with an actual nuclear weapon on board before Kim Jong Il would find himself the totalitarian dictator of a cinder of a country, assuming he survived the multiple thermonuclear warheads this nation would launch against him and his domain? In the old Cold War days mutual assured destruction, MAD, worked well enough with the Soviets because they realized, as did we, that resorting to nuclear weapons pretty much assured that the other's country would be destroyed. Why some version of this doesn't work with North Korea escapes me, though the argument seems to go that we should never have to suffer a nuclear detonation on our soil before we destroy the other guy. Ok, I can see the logic to that, which is why the other guy is more likely than not going to deliver his nukes in a way that obscures where they came from, not using a rocket that can be possibly intercepted.

Bush's timing on this was particularly propitious inasmuch as the DoD is looking for some $9.3 billion dollars for missile defense for the coming fiscal year. Yep, let's dump more good money after bad, on a defense system that doesn't defend us from a whole lot, and which sucks up money that could be better used in other places if only we had the imagination and values to put it there.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Trudeau Does It Again ... Excellent!